For many years, the peak of luxury watchmaking saw timepieces that were richly clad in gold, titanium or platinum. There was considerable value attached to the weightiness of a watch, even if its very heart — the movement — was kept hidden from plain sight, destined to spend years whirring away in the darkness.
While these watches still make up a large part of the industry’s offerings, a handful of watchmakers have gone against the grain to offer something unheard of decades ago: Sapphire crystal cases. Like skeletonised watches, these bare everything for all to see, only their inner workings are now visible from all angles and not just from the top down.
It’s one way of showing off a firm’s proficiency in craftsmanship, but sapphire crystal cases are also regarded as the height of watchmaking savoir-faire because of the technicality involved. As the second-hardest naturally occurring material on earth (next to diamond), sapphire crystal requires diamond-tipped tools to carve and polish. The process is reportedly so painstaking that even the tiniest of flaws would require starting over. More than 200 hours are usually poured into making these pieces of art, which explains why they’re almost always limited editions.
Below, a list of the most show-stopping watches with sapphire crystal cases.
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Bell & Ross has always been synonymous with military and aviation-inspired timepieces, only now it’s merging this technical and design know-how with as much transparency as possible. What better way to exemplify this new design ethos then, than with the BR-X1 Skeleton Tourbillon Sapphire Gold, a unique piece that renders its stunning minimalist inner workings in solid pink gold.
Because all the bridges within are open-worked, the hand-wound BR-Cal.288 movement beneath is a fascinating insight into the manufacturer’s dedication to craftsmanship. The mesmerising vision is topped off by a gilded tourbillon that appears to be floating. The 45mm square-cased watch offers a 100 hours of power reserve when fully wound, and is paired with an equally see-through rubber strap for good measure.
Poetically christened after one of the brightest and distant celestial objects in the universe, Girard-Perregaux’s latest Quasar timepiece sets the tone for the firm’s 2019 theme of “Earth to Sky”, where the extra-terrestrial is explored via its timepieces.
The play on lightness and darkness is executed flawlessly within its 45mm case; its full sapphire crystal body floods the usually-hidden movement with unprecedented clarity and light, while the iconic three-bridged movement is now in titanium and finished in a matte black PVD treatment for maximum contrast.
Savoire-Faire is always at the top of mind for Bulgari, so when they had to dream up a grand complication timepiece worthy of one of this generation’s most honoured watch designers, it had to think big.
The result is a 53mm skeletonised tourbillon watch that pushes all the boundaries of watchmaking. Save for its 18ct rose gold and white gold case, the rest of this special edition is kept revealed, including the skeletonised tourbillon and sapphire bridges. The GG 8000 calibre within powers this watch with 70 hours of power reserve.
Famed for his faceted silhouettes and graphic lines, contemporary sculptor Richard Orlinski lends his Midas touch to yet another Hublot timepiece, this time assuming a brand new sculptural dimension with sapphire crystal.
Named a rather mouthy Hublot Classic Fashion Tourbillon 5-Day Power Reserve Orlinksi, the timepiece is limited to 30 pieces each, and sees Hublot’s famous tourbillon sitting pretty against an ultra-modern open-worked architecture. Like its name suggests, power reserve here is a commendable five days’ worth, and is indicated on the dial amidst all the gears, bridges, and bars within.
Jay-Z’s version might admittedly be a bit more literal, having been fashioned out of actual blue sapphire and not sapphire crystal, but this is still a little more affordable at US$2.02 million (S$2.8 million).
Still, it’s one of the most spectacular iterations of a chronograph tourbillon ever created, especially now that its titanium baseplate looks properly suspended — almost floating — from within this crystal-clear timepiece.
Two main innovations are at play here; first, the debut of using sapphire to create see-through components, and second, the cable and pulley system that suspends this movement. 960 hours are required to fashion just one case, while its sapphire bridges, another 400 hours so the price tag seems almost worth it at this point. Little wonder then, that only 10 of these will be produced.
Not enough can be said about Jacob & Co.’s magical —almost impossible — repertoire of sapphire crystal cased watches. The most otherworldly one perhaps, is the Astronomia Maestro, a mini planetarium for your wrist that also chimes the time.
The true feat was ensuring every aspect worked in harmony, from the triple-axis tourbillon and the magnesium-lacquered blue globe, to the hand-painted astronaut that rotates itself every 40 seconds. This is set against a backdrop of gears and hand-painted planets and Milky Way all of which are visible from any angle.
The cherry atop this massive blockbuster of a cake is, of course the minute repeater, which comes equipped with three gongs instead of the usual two. The carillon chime strikes the hours, 15-minute intervals, and minutes on demand with impressive clarity and resonance, making it a feast for both the eyes and ears.